Page images

But other mooncalf's mine. By Chewton's dingle,
Or Hordle's cliff, where peevish sea-fowl screech,
I love to pace the solitary shingle,
What time tall breakers tumble on the beach,
Without a book or thought; such rolling base,
Fills all my mind, and serves me in their place.

More picturesquely rapt, I sometimes range
And see the mighty stage of ocean clear’d,
As nature were preparing for a change ;
Mark the beach'd buss and fish-boat homeward steer'd,
And listen in the distant din and bluster
To th' elements in arms, their march and muster;

See Solent* tossing in distemper'd sleep,
Breathe hard and long, his bosom heaving slow,
Save where to shore the curling waters creep,
There work and whiten, though no tempest blow,
While hatching secret mischief, like a spy,
Th' unsettld wind veers restless round the sky.

Last, from the south forth sallying, sweeps along
The billows, mixing seas and skies together.
I muse meantime, and mutter from old

Such snatches, as best sort with the wild weather:
Until, self-fool’d, I almost think my lore
“ Hath set the troubled waters in a roar."

Then seek my cell and books, and trim my hearth,
And call to Caliban, to fetch in firing,
A crack-brain'd knave, that often makes me mirth:
But when stern Winter, from our seas retiring,
“ Hath broke his leading staff,” I play no more
At Prospero, upon the sea-beat shore:

But give my fountain vent, and set it spouting,
Or scheme a freeze for some exotic's tub;
Or measure myrtles, which persist in sprouting
Without a sun; or murder obvious grub;
Or heat and hammer some reluctant rhyme ;

And so ʼmid nothings fleet away my time.' Mr. Rose has infused a new life into his model, but he is endowed with such a happy vein of originality, that we sincerely regret that he has chosen rather to be an imitator than an inventor, particularly as the species of composition which he has copied, however ably executed, can only be considered as marring the beauty, and destroying the utility, of the fictions of Æsop. Somewhat similar is the Hind and the Panther. Nothing can surpass the admirable versification of that poem, yet Dryden has denaturalized the character of the apologue and of the animals which appear in it; and his talents have not protected bim against the criticisms which he deserves. Voltaire has justly censured La Fontaine himself, whose later fables are expanded to a greater length than his earlier ones. Besides, the poet must write without shewing himself on the stage, and without any tincture of ridicule or sarcasm. Æsop is neither laborious, nor witty, nor impassioned: he observes the scenes which nature has presented to him, and he reports them with the impartiality of nature.

* The Solent, or Solent-sea, is the channel between the Isle of Wight and mainland. II 2


It will appear from our observations on the Animali Parlanti, that, according to the Italian classification, the satirical poem neither seeks to surprize us by varied incident, nor to move us by exalted sentiments. It is a poem in which the action and the personages are only subservient instruments employed to lead us to despise the opinions which we venerate, and to laugh at events in which we sympathise. Therefore the persons speak more than they act. On the contrary, it is the end and object of romantic poetry, that, through its medium, this rude world may appear more interesting than it actually is. The romantic poet seeks to astonish his readers by marvellous adventures, by human characters which range above mortality, by chivalrous exploits, by excessive tenderness and he roism, sometimes exaggerated even into absurdity. Poets of this class profit by any theme which presents itself: they are capable of be. stowing animation upon any object, therefore they do not reject the ludicrous scenes which happen to fall in their way ; but they never go a step out of it to search for them. Such are the poems on Charlemaine and his Peers by Pulci, Boiardo, Berni, and Ariosto. The Prospectus and Specimen of the National Work by William and Robert Whistlecraft' has undoubtedly been sug. gested by these poems, and most particularly by the Morgante Maggiore, of which we shall speak anon; but there is one important difference between them. The English author las filled his poem with sprightly humour, whilst the Italian romantic poets only laugh now and then. In examining the four cantos which have been published of the Specimen,' we shall discover whether this alteration bas succeeded. The

poem opens, like the Morgante Maggiore, and the Orlando Innamorato, with a scene of holy-tide festivity at the court of the king of chivalry.

• The great King Arthur made a sumptuous feast,

And held his royal Christmas at Carlisle.' To those who do not understand Italian, the following stanzas will afford an accurate idea of the interest which Pulci's vivacity gives to the most trivial scenes, and of the easy grace which Berni contrives to bestow upon

· The noise and uproar of the scullery tribe,
All pilfering and scrambling in their calling,


[ocr errors]

Was past all powers of language to describe-
The din of manful oaths and female squalling;
The sturdy porter, huddling up his bribe,
And then at random breaking heads and bawling,
Outcries, and cries of order, and contusions,
Made a confusion beyond all confusions.

Beggars and vagabonds, blind, lame, and sturdy,
Minstrels and singers with their various airs,
The pipe, the tabor, and the hurdy-gurdy,
Jugglers, and mountebanks with apes and bears,
Continued from the first day to the third day
An uproar like ten thousand Smithfield fairs;
There were wild beasts and foreign birds and creatures,

And Jews and foreigners with foreign features.'
The portraits of the British Knights and British beauties of the
court of King Arthur are painted with the bold decided pencil of

They look'd a manly, generous generation ;
Beards, shoulders, eye-brows, broad and square, and thick,
Their accents firm and loud in conversation,
Their eyes and gestures eager, sharp, and quick,
Shew'd them prepard, on proper provocation,
To give the lie, pull noses, stab and kick ;
And for that very reason it is said
They were so very courteous and well-bred.

The ladies look'd of an heroic race,-
At first a general likeness struck your eye,
Tall figures, open features, oval face,
Large eyes, with ample eyebrows arch'd and high;
Their manners had an odd peculiar grace,
Neither repulsive, affable, nor shy;
Majestical, reserv'd, and somewhat sullen,

Their dresses partly silk, and partly woollen.' Near Carlisle was a valley inhabited by a race of giants, froin which they sallied forth for the purpose of carrying off the ladies. This adventure was the beginning of a furious war. The author traces the characters of his personages with consummate art.

• Sir Tristram was prepared to sing and play,
Not like a minstrel earnest at his task,
But with a sportive, careless, easy style,
As if he seemed to mock himself the while.

From realm to realm he ran—and never staid;
Kingdoms and crowns he won--and gave away;
It seem'd as if his labours were repaid
By the mere noise and movement of the fray;
No conquesis nor acquirements bad he made ;
His chief delight was on some festive day

[ocr errors]

To ride triumphant, prodigal and proud,
And shower his wealth amidst the shouting crowd,

His schemes of war were sudden, unforeseen,
Inexplicable both tq friend and foe,
It seem'd as if some momentary spleen
Inspir’d the project and impell’d the blow;
And most his fortune and success were seen
With means the most inadequate and low;
Most master of himself, and least encumber'd,
When overmatch'd, entangled, and out-number'd,

Sir Gawain may be painted in a word,
He was a perfect loyal cavalier ;
His courteous manners stand upon record
A stranger to the very thought of fear,
The proverb says, brade as his own sword;
And like his weapon was that worthy peer;
Of admirable temper, clear and bright,
Polish'd yet keen, though pliant, yet upright.

A word from him set every thing at rest,
His short decisions never faiļd to hit;
His silence, his reserve, his inattention,
Were felt as the severest reprehension.

In executing schemes that others plann'd,
He seem'd a very Caesar or a Márius ;
Take his own plans, and place him in command,
Your prospect of success became precarious.

Adviser general to the whole community,

He sery'd his friend, but watch'd his opportunity.' Whenever the author composes in a serious strain, he becomes poetical in no ordinary degree. As a specimen of his success when he is in this mood, we shall quote his description of the valley of the giants.

Huge mountains of immeasurable height
Encompass'd all the level valley round
With mighty slabs of rock, that slop'd upright,
An insurmountable and enormous mound.
The very river vanish'd out of sight,
Absorb’d in secret channels under ground;
That vale was so sequester'd and secluded
All search for ages past it had eluded.

A rock was in the centre, like a cone,
Abruptly rising from a miry pool,
Where they beheld a pile of massy stone,
Which masons of the rude primaeval school
Had rear'd by help of giant hands alone,
With rocky fragments unreduc'd by rule.
Irregular, like nature more than art,
Huge, rugged, and compact in every part.

[ocr errors]

A wild tumultuous torrent rag'd around,
Of fragments tumbling from the mountain's height;
The whistling clouds of dust, the deaf'ning sound,
The hurried motion that amazed the sight,
The constant quaking of the solid ground,
Environ’d them with phantoms of affright;
Yet with heroic hearts they held right on,

Till the last point of their ascent was won.' Whoever compares this passage with any long prosaic description of mountain-scenery will be convinced that poetry is best calculated to represent the works of nature with effect, as well as with precision. The simplicity of style of some descriptive travellers passes almost into silliness; and the turgid eloquence of others wearies without impressing the imagination.

In the vicinity of the Giant's Valley was a convent of Benedictine monks, who had long enjoyed themselves in peace and quietness. However they nearly brought destruction upon themselves by starting an entire new ring of bells, by the noise of which the giants were mightily offended. This episode was partly suggested by Pulci; but the English author, availing himself of its capability, has developed it by the introduction of more humorous scenes, and more pertinent allusions. The war had scarcely begun, when the abbot died suddenly of a fit of the gout.

• The convent was all going to the devil,

Whilst he, poor creature, thought himself belov'd
For saying handsome things and being civil;
Wheeling about as he was pulled and shoved,

By way of leaving things to find their level." At this crisis, one Brother John (who had hitherto lived almost unnoticed) becomes a man of consequence he exhorts the monks to defend themselves against the giants, and he ends by taking the supreme command. All this however is to be considered as poetry, and not by any means as politics. The author does not deviate into reflexions or expositions-he presents us with a sample of the natural course of human affairs, and ith characters faithfully copied from mankind; and he leaves it to his readers to reflect, or to seek for the application. We presume that there are living poets who.chuse to say that they have behaved like cowards on the field of battle, and who compare themselves to the lyric poets of antiquity. We cannot give any other interpretation of the following lines.

Poets are privileg’d to run away-
Alcaeus and Archilochus could fling
Their shields behind them in a doubtful fray ;
And still sweet Horace may be heard to sing


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »